Italian Romanesque in Modena

Modena Cathedral, Italy - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo
Modena Cathedral - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo

The city of Modena in the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy is known world wide for its fast Ferrari cars and superb balsamic vinegar, as well as its beautiful Romanesque style cathedral and tower on the Piazza Grande. Creating world class art in whatever shape or form calls for inventiveness and genius. Around 800 years before Enzo Ferrari engineered his art on four wheels in his workshop, two artists, the architect Lanfranco and the sculptor Wiligelmo, created what is now considered supreme examples of Italian Romanesque architecture and works of art.

The cathedral, the Ghirlandina tower (Torre Civica) and the adjacent Piazza Grande were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997. In combination, this complex is of outstanding universal value as it bears exceptional witness to the cultural traditions, religious as well as civic, of a medieval town.

 

Modena Cathedral
Modena Cathedral

Built in the early 12th century, the cathedral exterior is clad in Istrian stone that shines brightly in the sun, contrasting sharply with the dark brown and rather sombre all-brick walls of the interior. Both the interior and exterior is decorated with some astonishing works of art, among them the Creation and Temptation of Adam and Eve relief (panels) sculpted by Wiligelmo (ca. 1110).

The 86 metres high Torre Civica, also called Ghirlandina, is the traditional symbol of Modena, dating from the latter part of the 12th century. The tower is linked to the cathedral by two arches. The octagonal top section and lantern were added later to compete with the towers of its neighbouring town Bologna. Two marble “garland” railings have given it the popular name of “La Ghirlandina”.

Modena Cathedral - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo
Modena Cathedral interior

The Romanesque Style

Modena Cathedral - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo
Modena Cathedral

Romanesque literally means “from the Roman” and refers to a style of architecture that dominated western Europe from the 11th to the 13th century. The term is based on the concept of the architecture of the Roman times which typically had rounded arches and vaults, and a strong sense of proportion and order. Prime examples of the Romanesque style churches can be found all over Europe and they reflect the Roman ideals; they tend to be solid, somewhat bulky, based on simple geometric design, patterns and order. Another influence was the architecture of the Byzantine Empire and one of the most important sources of inspiration in this regard was the 6th century Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, not far from Modena. San Vitale is an ecclesiastical style basilica built partially in the Roman style. Charlemagne, the ruler of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century and his palace in Aachen Germany was apparently greatly inspired by the basilica in Ravenna. The Romanesque building style later evolved from the architecture of the Charlemagne period.

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All photos © Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo